Photo: Alysse Gafkjen
The music collective is an interesting beast. Criticizing music often relies on examining the singular, examining how a vision, its execution, and the surrounding cohesion or lack thereof define a project. Yet, in regard to critiquing the music collective, it often feels like aiming to solve a fictitious math equation, where the sum of all its varied parts add up to something greater than the whole. At least that's the case with 99 Neighbors, the Vermont art-rap collective whose debut album cements them as firmly as one to watch.
From the title, the skittering of distant piano key presses, to the candid lyricism hidden behind every turn, uncertainty and resounding optimism intermingle throughout Wherever You're Going I Hope It's Great's 15-track run. It's a project that sways between feverish, hard-hitting bars and experimental jazz-accented highs without ever losing the emotional stakes at the core of the seven-piece collective's enthralling vision. Breathtaking in one moment, infectious in its chaotic fervor the next.
If there's one fault to be found with Wherever You're Going I Hope It's Great, it's that it escapes simple classification, readily and easily escaping comparisons to music collectives that came before them, more likely to be used as a comparison point for what comes next. "Rageless Hope" with its Japanese hip-hop, Nujabes-evoking beat, and the wistful air of tracks like "49er" and "N. Michigan Gospel" arrive in stark contrast to the unshakable bravado of "Live a Little" and "Table Jam" - the latter of which is reminiscent of the forgotten tradition of an off the cuff posse cut.
Wherever You're Going I Hope It's Great is an album unafraid to wear its heart on its sleeve, pulling up a magnifying glass to the trauma, pain, and anxieties of each of the collective's seven members. It is a debut album not defined by genre, nebulously shifting between hip-hop, jazz, R&B, and lush electronica, but one defined by the collective life experiences of its members.
Listen to Wherever You're Going I Hope It's Great below: